CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (WNCN) – The interim chancellor of the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill is making it a priority to improve relationships between students and campus police.
Kevin Guskiewicz announced this week the creation of a Campus Safety Commission which will include students, faculty members, administrators, and community leaders.
In an open letter to the “Carolina Community,” Guskiewicz wrote “The Campus Safety Commission will serve as advisors who provide vision and guidance about campus policing policies, practices, and related actions to the University.”
The school has seen several sizable confrontations in recent years and dealt with vandalism of memorials. The night before the fall semester began, protesters toppled the Confederate monument known as Silent Sam.
A graduate student smeared blood and red ink on the statue in April 2018. Prosecutors charged the same student with inciting a riot and assaulting an officer during a December protest following an announcement the university planned to return the statue to campus.
In March, police arrested two people for vandalizing another memorial at McCorkle Place. The Unsung Founders Memorial is dedicated to the slaves and other African-Americans who participated in the construction of the university.
Investigators said two members of the Heirs to the Confederacy group defaced the memorial with permanent marker and urine.
The activist group Silence Sam is organizing a walk-out protest for Wednesday, April 24, because students say “By offering police protection and free parking to racists while beating and arresting anti-racist students, UNC has made itself complicit in white supremacy.”
In his letter, Chancellor Guskiewicz said there is a “need to build stronger relationships and communication between our campus community and campus police, and a better understanding of the safety and security needs and concerns of the larger campus community.”
The 20-person Campus Safety Commission includes six current students ranging from undergraduates to PhD candidates, about a dozen members of the university’s faculty and administration, a former president of the Chapel Hill-Carrboro Chapter of the NAACP who is also a minister, a former district attorney, and a former chief of the Chapel Hill Police Department.
One of the student members is senior Emily Blackburn, who told CBS 17 by email:
I think the inclusion of students is a vital step towards ensuring that students feel adequately represented within the space of the committee and that they feel safe within the Carolina community at large.
It is important to note that the voices of these few students, faculty, and community members cannot and should not strive to represent the entirety of their constituents, but it is my hope to gain as much feedback from my fellow students and convey these sentiments in a way that is constructive to the objectives that the committee puts forward.
It is also my hope that we, as students, can express unity in the goals that we put forward so that they can be given the utmost consideration and respect from the committee and the Carolina community.
UNC freshman Hana Khan, who is from London, said she did not know anything about Silent Sam until arriving in Chapel Hill days before the statue’s toppling.
“As soon as Silent Sam got torn down, I heard a lot more about it, and started doing my research,” she said.
“I think (the Commission) is a really positive thing that can be implemented within campus. I don’t see any harm coming from it, and I feel like it’s definitely a step in the right direction and I’m excited to see what can come of it.”
Khan said the organization’s plans to meet monthly provides a routine that creates confidence.
Wali Khan, no relation, said having a dialogue between students and administrators is beneficial. The freshman from High Point said starting his studies at the same time as the Confederate monument’s destruction was an unexpected way to begin college.
“Entering Chapel Hill, and seeing all of the stuff going around with Silent Sam, it’s definitely refreshing to see that there is something done because of all that,” he said.
Some other students expressed uncertainty as to how the committee will directly impact them as individuals, and are taking a wait and see approach.